St. Gemma Galgani’s Visions and Visits of the Sacred Heart

Gemma had much to reflect on and say about the Sacred Heart — along with some of her holy friends.

A photo of St. Gemma Galgani, published in 1916 alongside a statue of the Sacred of Heart of Jesus.
A photo of St. Gemma Galgani, published in 1916 alongside a statue of the Sacred of Heart of Jesus. (photo: Wikimedia Commons/Maria Ratta / Public Domain/Shutterstock)

June, the Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, emphasizes importance to devotion to the Sacred Heart. St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the “Apostle of the Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” was the first to promulgate this devotion. Our Lord appeared to her on Dec. 27, 1673. He cured her of serious illnesses, would appear and talk to her frequently, and gave her the mission to establish the devotion to his Sacred Heart. The Lord told her that the love of his Heart must spread to people.

But few realize that in the late 19th century, St. Gemma Galgani also had a strong connection to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She, too, was cured of serious physical ailments that kept her bedridden (and even gave her no hope to survive) — until Jesus cured her.

Born in March 1878, Gemma appeared spiritually gifted at a young age. Her aunt Elisa Galgani described how her niece “had a deep love for the Blessed Virgin and prayed to Her with great fervor and devotion, often repeating: ‘Holy Mary, make me a saint.’ She had also a very special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus whom she ardently loved and to whom she prayed with extraordinary fervor” and carried with her “little pictures of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.”

Then came June 17, 1887, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. Because Gemma was being taken care of elsewhere and not at home, she wrote to her father, “Dear Papa, The vigil of my first Holy Communion day has come, a day of unbounded happiness for me. I am writing to assure you of my affection, and to ask you to pray to Jesus for me that when He comes to me for the first time, He may find me well disposed to receive all the graces He has prepared for me.” Those graces were to become immeasurable.

Fast-forward to 1901: Gemma wrote to her spiritual director, Venerable Father Germanus Ruoppolo, a Passionist priest, of that June day over a decade earlier as if it had just happened presently.

“I do not know, Father, whether you have heard that the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart is indeed my Solemnity day. Yesterday, Father, was a heavenly day; I was with Jesus all the time, I was happy with Jesus, I wept with Jesus. An interior recollection kept me more than usually united to my dear Jesus, but my happiness was even greater, when in the evening Jesus blessed me. I heard Him say these words: ‘Dearest daughter, I am pleased with you to-day!’ I answered: ‘0 Jesus, would that I could please Thee always.’ And I cried in the depths of my heart: ‘Oh chilling thoughts of the world, go far from me; I want to be always with Jesus, and with Jesus alone.’ … The more I think, the more I realize that I can be happy only by casting myself upon Thine Infinite Mercy. 0 Jesus most merciful!’”

She continued, “Father [Germanus], where have my thoughts carried me to? To that beautiful day of my first Communion. Yesterday, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I experienced once again the joy of that happy day. Yesterday, I again tasted the pleasures of Paradise. But what is the enjoyment of a day compared with the ages of eternity? I can say with truth that on that day of my first Communion my heart was most on fire with love for Jesus. How happy I was when with Jesus in my heart I could say: ‘0 my God, Thy Heart is like mine; what gives Thee pleasure, can make me happy also. What then am I in need of? Nothing. If I compare the peace of heart that was mine on the day of my first Communion with that which I experience now I find no difference ...’”

It was no surprise that the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart became Gemma Galgani’s own distinctive day of devotion. Yearly, on the feast, she would unite herself with all the first communicants in spirit.


Future Saints ‘Meet’

Rewind two years to 1899, when two saints of the Sacred Heart “met.” The prior 1898 Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception saw Gemma becoming a Barbantine Sister. But by February she was in intense suffering from several spinal problems, plus an added tumor causing “violent spasmodic pains.” Doctors said she would die.

Then, on Feb. 19, Msgr. John Volpi, bishop of Arezzo, who knew Gemma well, told her to make a novena to then-Blessed Margaret Mary Alacoque. 

“Gemma was not enthusiastic. She would have longed to be cured had not her soul been so filled with desire for union with God,” according to her biographer, Passionist Father Amedeo. But she obeyed her confessor and started the novena, but the following day, she forgot. Again, she began — and again forgot.

She began a third time before midnight on Feb. 23. She would tell of the heavenly vision she had then: “I heard the sound of a Rosary and I felt a hand placed on my forehead. A voice then began to say the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to the Father, nine times. I hardly knew what to say I was so weak with pain. The same voice that had said the Our Father, asked me: ‘Do you wish to be cured?’ ‘It is all the same to me,’ I replied. ‘Yes,’ he continued, ‘you will be cured. Pray with faith to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Every evening until the end of the novena I shall come and we shall pray together to the Sacred Heart.’ ‘And what about Blessed Margaret Mary?’ I asked. ‘Add the Glory Be to the Father three times in her honor.’”

The voice, she was to learn, was that of Gabriel of Possenti, not yet canonized. He had died in 1862 and b was known as (St.) Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother. 

“Gemma, what are you doing?” he said. “You have begun the Novena to the Blessed Margaret to obtain the favor and you have forgotten it again; does it seem to you that this is the way to ask for favors? ... Oh Gemma, the Blessed Margaret is so afflicted because of you; she loves you, she would like to obtain for you so many favors, she would like to cure you, to make you all hers, but she cannot: The Heart of Jesus restrains her because you pray so little, and with no devotion."

Gabriel began the Novena to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with her, praying “nine Paters, Aves, and Glories, and so that you will not forget it, we will do it together for nine evenings at this same hour. Having finished that to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, you will make one to the Blessed Margaret, and recite nine Glorias. Shall we do this at once?”

Her heavenly visitor arrived every evening, placed his hand on her, and, together, they recited the Our Father to the Sacred Heart, and then added the Glory Be to the Father in honor of Blessed Margaret Mary. “The novena was to end on the first Friday of March,” Gemma would report.

That following morning, she received Holy Communion. Jesus said to her: “Gemma, do you wish to be cured?’ Gemma recalled, being overcomes with emotion that she “could not speak … Poor Jesus! The grace was granted; I was cured. … That morning I wept with Jesus, and Jesus, always good, always tender, was saying: ‘I shall always be with you, my daughter. I am thy father,’ and, pointing to Mary the Mother of Sorrows,’ she will be your mother. A father’s help will never be wanting to whoever puts himself in My hands. Although I have taken away from you every support and consolation on earth, nothing will ever be wanting to you.’”

Jesus also said, “Are you not happy to be the daughter of Jesus and Mary?” And Gemma would reflect, “The great affection which Jesus had hidden in his Heart for me made me speechless.”
Indeed, she was cured that First Friday, a day devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

At the end of that novena, St. Gabriel also told her, “Oh, how happy Jesus is about the lovely promise that you have given him of making the Holy Hour every Thursday. Never forget it. And the Blessed Margaret is also happy; she has secured from the Heart of Jesus permission to cure you, and you ought to make to her a fair promise … think often of the Blessed Margaret, because she loves you and will give you many graces.” Gemma asked why Blessed Margaret Mary loved her when Gemma never thought of her or prayed to her. Gabriel answered, “Because you are a poor little soul whom she wishes to bring to Jesus.”

Gemma would say that she knew no other words to say other than “Jesus, I thank you! ... Blessed Margaret, thank you!”


Ecstasy, Visions, Stigmata

On June 8, 1899, the vigil of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, after Holy Communion, Gemma heard Jesus say to her heart: “Gemma, courage! I am waiting for thee on Calvary towards which Your art journeying.” That evening, the Blessed Mother and Gemma’s guardian angel appeared to her. Mary told her, “Jesus my Son loves thee much, and wishes to confer a favor on thee. Canst you render thyself worthy of it? I will be a Mother to thee; will You show thyself a true daughter of mine?” She covered Gemma with her mantle. Gemma recounted that, next, “Jesus appeared with all His wounds open, but instead of Blood, flames as it were of fire issued from them. In an instant those flames touched my hands, feet and heart.” She received the stigmata.

Her wounds bled until next day, three o’clock in the afternoon of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. That same Month of the Sacred Heart, after her usual Holy Hour, Jesus revealed to her all she would have to suffer the rest of her life.


Reflections on the Sacred Heart

Gemma was favored with many ecstasies and visions of Jesus suffering from the cross on his shoulders, or Jesus pointing to his Sacred Heart. Sometimes he also appeared as a beautiful child. The Blessed Mother, her guardian angel and St. Gabriel of the Sorrowful Mother also visited her.

In his book Father Amedeo noted that Jesus showed his heart to her, as he had done to St. Margaret Mary. Gemma said, “[D]o You now open Thy Heart for me? Oh, if only all sinners would come to Thy Heart. Come, sinners, do not fear! The sword of Justice will not reach you there. … Oh, how beautiful is Thy Heart! ... O Jesus, I wish that my voice could be heard all over the world; I would urge all sinners to seek refuge in Thy Heart.”

For Gemma, there was an unbreakable connection between the Sacred Heart and Holy Communion, a connection as current as today’s Eucharistic Revival and a reflection of scientific findings of Hosts’ Eucharistic miracles — found to be heart tissue. She told her spiritual director, “Father, let me speak about Holy Communion ... Are there souls who do not understand what the Eucharist really is? Is it possible that there are souls insensible to the divine urgings, to the mysterious ardent effusions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus? O Heart of Jesus, how can mankind refuse to consecrate to Thee all the beats of their hearts, all the blood of their veins! Oh Heart of Jesus, Heart of Love!”

She encouraged: “What joy one experiences when one abandons oneself into the arms of Jesus! The faithful soul becomes his dearest child. He opens his arms to receive it, and presses it to his most Sacred Heart.”

St. Gemma Galgani died in 1903. She was canonized in 1940, but, interestingly, her cause was officially approved by the Pope in 1920 — the same year St. Gabriel and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque were canonized.